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Town secures additional $4 million for new wastewater treatment plant

Securing over $4 million in federal money, the Town of Pagosa Springs can move forward on the construction of a wastewater treatment plant — a project that has been a problem, and a necessity, for the town for more than six years.

Last Thursday, the Town of Pagosa Springs received notice from the USDA that it would receive the funds for the construction of the facility. The money includes $3,145,000 in loans (at 2 percent interest) and $787,000 in grants.

Along with other funds secured two years ago (a $2 million loan from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority and a $1.25 million grant from the Department of Local Affairs), the Town of Pagosa Springs has just over $7 million to construct the plant.

“I’m relieved that we’re finally moving forward,” said Phil Starks, supervisor for the Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District. According to Starks, the town would most likely break ground on the project in May.

The project had been beset with multiple problems over the past few years. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) mandated construction of a new plant in 2006 after the current wastewater treatment system reached capacity and was subject to several outflow violations. Furthermore, state and federal regulators had determined in 2006 that lagoon systems for wastewater treatment (what the town is currently using) were obsolete and needed to be phased out.

Originally set for construction in October 2008, the project ran into funding and permitting problems during the planning stages. The project was further hobbled with construction on the plant delayed indefinitely and with contract bids for construction of the facility far exceeding the amount the town had secured for the project.

Bids for construction of the wastewater treatment plant, submitted in mid-April 2009, ranged from $5.9 million to $8.8 million. Unfortunately for PSSGID, even low bids for the project come in around $1.15 million over budget.

Although the PSSGID board had considered pursuing USDA funding in 2009, the board rejected the idea at that time due to engineering costs necessary to meet funding application requirements.

However, those requirements were relaxed somewhat in early 2010 due to personnel changes at the USDA and the PSSGID was encouraged to reconsider applying for available USDA funds.

The PSSGID’s application for USDA funding was submitted late summer of last year and, with last week’s letter, it was evident that the application had been successful.

“We’re really pleased that we received funding from the USDA and glad of the timing due to the fact that congress is looking to cut spending. We’re glad we got in under the wire,” said Town Manager David Mitchem.

Indeed, timing for the funding award was more than mere providence: the town’s current wastewater treatment system occasionally exceeds ammonia levels in its discharge during the winter months, and also risks hydraulic problems and violations during the spring when snow runoff can overload the system.

Those violations not only got the town sideways with the CDPHE (which in turn answers to the EPA), but put the town at risk of further sanctions at the state and federal level, severely hampering badly needed economic development in the area.

Looking no farther than Bayfield, it’s clear that the state could do more than levy fines for continued water-quality violations. The state imposed a building moratorium on the Town of Bayfield in April 2006 for its continued water-quality violations. Bayfield recently completed its new wastewater treatment plant at a cost of $7.1 million.

With the award of over $4 million in USDA funds, the Town of Pagosa Springs can breathe easier, not just in regard to meeting CDPHE mandates, but also in the knowledge that it will soon treat one of its most valuable resources — the San Juan River — with much-improved respect.

jim@pagosasun.com

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